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CBS angers minority groups by axing ''City of Angels''

EW.com investigates the future of minority dramas

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Blair Underwood, City of Angels
Blair Underwood: CBS

By canceling its only predominantly African American show, ”City of Angels,” CBS has infuriated minority media watchdogs. Just one week before CBS axed ”Angels” on Nov. 22, the network was lambasted for its lack of diversity in a seminannual report card issued by a coalition of minority organizations including the NAACP. ”We are one or two shows away from being invisible on television again,” says Lisa Navarrete, spokeswoman for the National Council of La Raza, a Latino member of the media coalition. ”And without ‘Angels,’ CBS dramatically decreases the number of African Americans on its lineup.” According to CBS’ own count, ”Angels” made up 40 percent of their lineup’s 41 minority hires.

Navarrete claims that CBS expected too much from ”Angels,” the Steven Bochco produced L.A. hospital series that ran Thursday nights at 9 p.m. against NBC’s chart topping Must See TV schedule and ABC’s ”Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” ”We’re not asking for them to keep a badly rated show on the air,” Navarrete tells EW.com. ”But you don’t promote a show by giving it a death hour opposite the highest rated shows on television.” Bochco and CBS declined to talk to EW.com for this story. In a press statement, however, CBS said: “We take this step with a profound sense of disappointment. ‘City of Angels’ has been a tremendous source of pride for all of us … for its role in our ongoing pursuit of diversity on the air. [T]he program simply did not achieve the ratings that would justify its continuation on our primetime schedule.” (”Angels” averaged just 7.4 million viewers, 27 percent fewer than its lead in, ”48 Hours.”)

Industry analysts say the drama could’ve been a perfect alternative for viewers who didn’t want to watch sitcoms or a game show. ”CBS never expected it to win its time period, but it could’ve at least gotten some double digit numbers,” says Paul Schulman, president of the media buying firm Schulman/ Advanswers NY. And a hopeful ”Angels” star Blair Underwood earlier told EW.com: ”’The Cosby Show’ proved a black cast could bring in viewers — black, white, everybody.”

But Schulman admits ”Angels” wasn’t ”Cosby.” ”The writing wasn’t good enough, which is surprising for a Bochco show,” he says. ”It’s not that the cast was black; it just wasn’t a special show. Any other network would’ve dropped it.” EW TV critic Ken Tucker agrees with Schulman; Tucker gave the series a ”C +” when it debuted last January, and wrote: ”’City of Angels’ depicts a beleaguered place in need of money and good doctors; the show itself is in need of subtlety and better dialogue.”

So what does the cancellation mean for the future of minority dramas? Navarrete worries that execs may now refuse to greenlight such projects. ”It seems like we get one shot,” she says. ”The networks think ‘Angels’ didn’t work, so why should another drama about African Americans, not to mention Latinos or Asians.” But Schulman believes broadcasters ”are trying harder than they ever have,” and that sooner or later there will be a breakthrough drama. ”When the networks announce this March what shows they have in development,” he says, ”I’ll guarantee there’ll be several ‘ethnic’ shows. There’s too much to be gained for there not to be.” Otherwise, many minority viewers will defect to cable networks like Nickelodeon, HBO, and Showtime, which feature multiethnic programs. On this point, even Navarrete agrees. ”It’s basic economics,” she says. ”We make up a bigger portion of the population every year, and if the networks alienate us, it’s bad business.”